Ever since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema has been spearheading the Real Madrid attack. He has been their only player to reach double digits for goals in La Liga for the past two seasons. Benzema is the 4th highest goal scorer in UCL with 64 goals in 118 appearances and is the 3rd highest goal scorer among active players. In this scout report, we will examine the Frenchman’s contributions to this Real Madrid side, the tactical analysis of his game, and how he has been an indispensable cog in Zinedine Zidane’s new-look Real Madrid attack
It is evident from the heat map that he is certainly not the conventional no. 9 as he positions himself a lot in the left-wing and the half-spaces. Real Madrid’s build play is heavily concentrated in the left-wing of their attack. Benzema’s positioning shows his importance in the side’s build-up play. Due to the lack of creativity in their midfield Benzema is most-often forced to drop deep. Even though listed as the side’s striker, Benzema has been their unheralded playmaker.
Benzema is the leading goal scorer (14 goals) and assists provider (6 assists) for the side in the league. He is also their only player with 10+ G+A for the season. For the past two seasons, Madrid has been over-reliant on the Frenchman for goals and also in creating the chances. He has created seven big chances this season while averaging 1.7 key passes per game. Benzema has 0.21 xA per 90 minutes played. Despite being heavily involved in the build-up and not being inside the box like a conventional striker, he averages 3 shots per match with 1.6 shots on target per match and has 0.62 xG per 90 minutes.
Benzema is more than just a striker for this Real Madrid side. He is the fulcrum of their attack. The striker is constantly involved in the buildup by dropping into the left-wing, midfield, and half-spaces. Zidane’s tactics have given him the freedom to roam. Benzema has the technical and tactical ability to take advantage of it, having also completed 28 dribbles (success rate of 58.33%) in the league.
Benzema’s playmaking ability was on full display when Real Madrid faced Eibar after the lockdown. He was the common denominator in all three of Real Madrid’s goals in the match. The above image is the buildup to the 3rd goal. Benzema drifts over to the half-space in the right-wing and receives the ball from Dani Carvajal. He then released it to Eden Hazard, taking out four players in the process and Hazard was through on goal. Hazard’s shot ricocheted over to the goal scorer Marcelo.
The above image shows the buildup to the play before their brilliant 2nd goal of the match. The Frenchman again the architect behind it. He dropped into the midfield and received the ball in the left-wing. Benzema then advanced through the left-wing and skipped past a defender before giving a sumptuous through ball to Hazard, who was one on one with the keeper and squared it off to Sergio Ramos to put into the empty net.
Benzema was hardly involved in the buildup in the second half of the match. This coincided with having one of their worst second-half performances of the season. Real Madrid failed to have any control over the match, constantly losing possession in the midfield and most often than not, failed to progress past the opposition press.
Off the ball work
Real Madrid are a team that employs aggressive counter-pressing as well as offensive pressing (high press). They have scored quite a lot of goals from the turnovers due to these tactics. The role Benzema plays in this is extremely important and is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of his game. He averages 0.5 successful tackles per match and has won 42% of his ground duels. Benzema is usually the first line of the Real Madrid press. The crowning moment of this, the goals he scored against Bayern and Liverpool in the 2018/19 UCL after his aggressive pressing forced the keepers to make mistakes which resulted in extremely important goals for the team.
The above image shows the moments leading up to their goal against Manchester City. Benzema and Luka Modric are aggressively pressing the Man City midfielders. This resulted in an important turnover of possession and Isco scoring their only goal of the match.
When the opposition is having possession of the ball, Benzema constantly guards the passing lanes forcing them to look for difficult passes or long balls. He always looks for any opportunity to press the opposition as in the case illustrated above. This facet of his game doesn’t show up in any statistical analysis but is an extremely important aspect of Zidane’s tactics.
Chemistry with teammates
Ronaldo was the undisputed strike man in Real Madrid for the past decade, but the role Benzema played in helping Ronaldo achieve those staggering goal-scoring numbers doesn’t show up in any stat books. His chemistry with his teammates is one of the biggest factors that has solidified his presence in this Real Madrid side. A large number of strikers have fought with the Frenchman for Real Madrid’s number 9 spot. Some of them even better goal scorers than Benzema, like Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain. Despite all this, he has been one of the first names in the starting lineup for every single one of Real Madrid’s long list of managers during this period.
The above scenario depicts the buildup to the goal scored by Benzema against Espanyol. Benzema has the ball at the edge of the box surrounded by three Espanyol defenders. He treads it down the line for an onrushing Valverde. Benzema then continues his run into the box knowing that Fede Valverde will return it to him. All of this happened in a fluid motion, a beautiful example of superb one-touch football showcasing the chemistry he has with one of the relatively newer members of this squad.
The sequence of play depicted above shows the buildup to their 3rd goal against Real Sociedad. Gareth Bale is running down the right-wing with the ball and Benzema who initially starts moving into the near post area, checks his run just before Bale crosses the ball knowing that Bale will be crossing it to the far post. Unlike most of the strikers, he doesn’t try to score from this position and instead heads it down to an onrushing Modric who then puts into the back of the net.
Benzema’s technical and tactical acumen coupled with his selflessness made him an integral part of this legendary Real Madrid side. Even though he has missed a lot of big chances (13 big chances missed this season), he is still their best source for goals and has the most shots on target (42 shots) for them this season, Toni Kroos coming second with 12 shots. Even at the age of 32, Benzema is showing no signs of slowing down and his performance will play a huge factor in Real Madrid’s pursuit of their 34th La Liga title.